Overview of ASD

Autism Education

Overview of ASD

What is it?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts language/social skills and increases rigid or repetitive behavior.

The symptoms of ASD fall under two categories: 

Social Communication and Interaction
  • Absence of pretend play skills
  • Shows little interest in other children
  • Low levels of eye contact when interacting with others
  • Failing to look at a person who is calling their name
Restrictive, Repetitive Behavior
  • Difficulty adjusting to changes in routines
  • Repeating vocalizations, words, or phrases
  • Sensitivity to changes in light, noise or temperature
  • Excessive interest in an object or topic
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is not currently a cure for ASD; however, some interventions have demonstrated the ability to mitigate the effects of its symptoms. Treatment based on the principles of ABA is often referred to as the “gold standard” for individuals with ASD. In 1999, the surgeon general of the United States identified ABA as an effective treatment for individuals with autism. Additionally, health officials from New York, California, and Maine have also endorsed the use of ABA for people with autism. A group of researchers at the University of North Carolina recently reviewed treatments used by professionals working with clients with ASD. The researchers identified 28 interventions that met the criteria to be considered an evidence-based practice. Of the 28 identified interventions, 23 included research published in prominent ABA journals (e.g., Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Analysis in Practice) or were co-authored by a behavior analyst.

Close to Home

Autism in North Carolina

8-year-old children in North Carolina have a diagnosis of autism

8-year-old children in the United States have a diagnosis of autism

In 2016, data from the North Carolina Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (NC-ADDM) indicated North Carolina‘s prevalence rate for 8-year-old children is higher than the national average.

However, it’s important to note:

  • According to the CDC, there is no research that indicates children living in specific areas are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD.
  • Children from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD due to increased access to testing.

what next?

Acquiring a Diagnosis

Caregivers may believe their child has ASD based on the presence of early symptoms. If you have observed some of the symptoms listed below and you are concerned about your child’s development, please contact your child’s primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care doctor, our staff may be able to provide you with a list of doctors in your area.

To receive ABA therapy, an individual must have a diagnosis of ASD. The following section provides an overview of the process to help families navigate this process. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD at 18 and 24 months by their primary care physician. However, additional screenings may occur based on caregiver or doctor concerns.

Early Symptoms of ASD
Age Symptoms
At 12 months Does not respond to their name
At 14 months Does not use gestures, like pointing
At 18 months Does not engage in pretend play
General Low levels of eye contact
Delayed language skills
Becomes upset after small changes to routines
Repetitive motor movements
Repetitive speech
Screening – Determines if a person is at risk for developing ASD
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends regular screenings for ASD, but a physician may conduct a screening at other times as well. Screenings are conducted with tools like specially designed checklists or questionnaires that gathers information about a person’s development.

Examples of common tools include:

  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
  • Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
The results of a screening determine if a person is at risk of developing the disorder, but it does not provide a diagnosis of ASD. To get a formal diagnosis of ASD, a full evaluation and assessment is needed as described below.
Evaluation – Results provide a diagnosis of ASD
Individuals who are at risk of having ASD, undergo an evaluation completed a licensed psychologist, developmental pediatrician, or child psychiatrist. The evaluations typically include caregiver interviews and an observation of the child’s behavior. To guide the observations, formal tools measuring the symptoms of ASD are used.

Commonly used observational tools include:

  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (CARS-2)
  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2)
  • Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition (GARS-2)
A diagnosis is determined by examining the information provided from the interview and observational tool and comparing it to the symptoms of ASD.
Additional questions? Our team is happy to help!

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.

Hyman et al. (2020) Table.

Maenner M.J. et al. (2020) Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2016. MMWR Surveill Summ 69, :1–12. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6904a1.

Rosenwasser B. & Axelrod S. (2001) The contribution of applied behavior analysis to the education of people with autism. Behavior Modification, 25(5), 671‐677.

Steinbrenner, J. R., Hume, K., Odom, S. L., Morin, K. L., Nowell, S. W., Tomaszewski, B., Szendrey, S., McIntyre, N. S., Yücesoy-Özkan, S., & Savage, M. N. (2020). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice Review Team.